Brett Halliday: The Body Came Back

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Brett Halliday The Body Came Back
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    The Body Came Back
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Brett Halliday

The Body Came Back


It was very quiet and comfortably cool in the luxurious sitting room of the 8th floor hotel suite overlooking Biscayne Bay in Miami. There was only the muted whir of the airconditioning unit and the occasional tinkle of ice cubes in a glass as the sole occupant of the room sipped reflectively from her highball.

She was a tall woman in her early forties, beautifully gowned in a dove-silk dress, seated at the end of a long sofa behind a coffee table that held a serving tray containing a fifth of Scotch, a bucket of ice cubes, and an uncapped bottle of soda. Beside the tray in front of her was an ashtray with half a dozen crushed cigarette butts in it. Her right hand held a half-filled glass of amber liquid with two partially melted ice cubes floating in it, and between the first two fingers of her left hand was a newly-lit cigarette which she held pensively an inch from her lips, squinting her eyes slightly to shut out the blue smoke that curled upward while she stared across the room at the blank wall in front of her.

She sat peculiarly erect on the sofa, with her body scarcely touching the cushion behind her, nice legs uncrossed and high-heeled shoes flat on the rug in front of her, with a look of passivity, of waiting, on her regular features which was belied by the impression of intense though disciplined energy which flowed out of her erect posture, and the taut back and neck muscles which gave a proud lift to her head, smoothed and tightened the lines of chin and throat to form a profile of youthful beauty.

She blinked her eyes suddenly and held them closed for a long second, dark lashes lying smoothly against the small hollows above rather high cheekbones.

Then she gave a little impatient shake of her head, turned her left wrist to note that the hands of her watch stood at ten-thirty, then took a long drink from her glass and set it down firmly on the table, forced herself to relax against the cushion and dragged smoke deeply into her lungs.

She knew it was preposterous for her to be keyed up like this. It might be hours before the telephone rang or there would come a knock on the door. She was determined to ration her drinks carefully to last out the waiting which might go on for hours. This was only her second drink from the bottle of Scotch which the boy had brought to the suite at nine. She would wait until eleven to pour a third one, she decided calmly. Every hour on the hour. That was the ticket. That way the Scotch would last for as many hours as it had to last, and no one could get drunk on that limited intake of alcohol.

There was some rule about it, she knew. Some definite chemical rule. The body is capable of absorbing and neutralizing alcohol at a certain, stated rate. If you didn’t exceed that rate of intake, the percentage of alcohol in your bloodstream remained constant and you remained sober.

But she couldn’t recall what that safe rate of intake was. She knew there were twenty-six ounces in a fifth. The moderate sort of drink she normally poured for herself was approximately one ounce. One drink every hour would make a bottle last twenty-six hours.

That would certainly be safe enough, she decided. She knew plenty of people who often drank a full fifth during the course of a long evening without getting really tight.

She took another slow drag on her cigarette and looked at her watch again and was irritated to discover that she had managed to kill only five minutes going through that series of intricate mental calculations. She sighed deeply and took another very small sip from her glass, and glanced down at the folded newspaper beside her on the sofa. It was a copy of yesterday’s Miami News. She had already read it from the front page back to the classified advertisements, but she picked it up again and smoothed it out in her lap.

It lay open at the front page of the society section which she had already studied thoroughly, and her gaze was drawn again to the feature story in the center of the page which was headlined


It was a long, two-column story underneath a large picture of a radiantly beautiful girl gazing upward happily and adoringly into the eyes of a rather somber-faced man a dozen years older than she with a jutting jaw and windblown hair. The picture was captioned: “Vicky Andrews, recent graduate of Sarah Lawrence who is a visitor in Miami this week prior to her marriage Sunday to State Senator-Elect William C. Greer.”

My God, she thought, biting her under-lip and gazing down at the girl’s face for perhaps the tenth time since she had first seen it, how young she is; how innocent, and how damned sure of herself. How sure of life and the future, and of love and happiness forever and ever. Was I ever that young? Did I ever believe what she believes?

What about him? A sour-puss, if you ask me. Much too old for her. But quite a catch, I guess, from the way they lay it on thick down below.

Yes, damn it! I was that young once, she told herself fiercely. Just that naive and starry-eyed. If you could only tell them, she thought angrily. If they’d only listen to someone who had been through the mill so they’d have some idea what to expect from marriage.

She drew her gaze slowly away from the girl’s face and dropped it to the body of the story, gliding swiftly over the words she had already read several times:

“One of the major social events of the Miami season will be the marriage on Sunday at 2 P.M. of Miss Vicky Andrews of New York and William C. Greer at the home of the bridegroom-to-be’s parents at 737 Seacoast Drive, Miami Beach.

“Miss Andrews is the daughter of Mrs. Carla Andrews of Beverly Hills, California, prominent member of the film colony and well-known author of numerous motion picture and television scripts, who is flying to Miami tomorrow to join her daughter at the Encanto Hotel and attend her wedding.

“The future bridegroom, who is the son of prominent Miami Beach residents, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Lancy Greer, is a graduate of the Yale School of Law and practiced in New York City with the firm of Overholz, Lancy, Durwent and Powers until he resigned a few months ago to return home and make a successful bid for election to a seat in the Florida State Senate.

“Members of the wedding party from out of the city include…”

She put the newspaper aside and pensively lowered the contents of her glass a carefully calculated half an inch, yawned slightly and leaned forward to mash out her smouldering cigarette butt.

“Mrs. Carla Andrews of Beverly Hills, California,” she muttered aloud with a sardonic twist of her lips. “Prominent member of the film colony and well-known author of numerous motion picture and television scripts…

Well, leaving out a couple of adjectives, it was a fair enough description. Vicky had probably given the facts to the reporter. You couldn’t blame the kid for building up her old mom. You have to put up a front, by God. If you’re going to marry a Senator named William C. Greer, you sure as hell better.

Well, her mom hadn’t done so badly either. Put her through a swank school like Sarah Lawrence, hadn’t she? Beating her brains out in Hollywood on those lousy TV scripts and living in a two-room walk-up on the fringe of Beverly Hills.

She sighed deeply and lit another cigarette and stole another look at her watch. 10:52. The ice had melted in her glass and there were about three healthy swallows of pale amber liquid in the bottom. She disposed of one of the swallows, letting it dribble down her throat slowly. She sure as hell wanted to be sober when the telephone rang, or…

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